Is Enduring Some Pain A Necessary Part of Healing? Is There Such a Thing as Good Pain vs Bad Pain?

One of you recently emailed me a question, and this video/blog is the answer. 

The question was essentially:

“You seem to believe that enduring SOME pain will always be part of the healing process, but what about difficulty breathing regularly or feeling lightheaded? And is it ok to back off at the beginning and go deeper later?” 

I hope I’ve never given anyone the impression that it’s necessary to create unsafe experiences while healing. If I have, I apologize. 

The first thing that popped out at me within this question was the word “endure.” I don’t think enduring pain is ever productive. The word endure suggests that the experience you’re having is something to “get through” or “bear” until it’s over. 

I have a long history of enduring pain as a coping mechanism for trauma. I was so good at enduring pain actually that I didn’t even know I had a choice! My body and brain would literally just get me through a situation, and it wasn’t until long after that I’d realize “Wow, I didn’t even think about all the choices I had. I could have said NO or left that experience, but I just got through it without even thinking about it.”

If you ever notice yourself going into endurance on autopilot, there’s a good chance you also use this as a coping mechanism to get through traumatic or threatening situations because some part of you thinks you have no other choice. 

We ALWAYS have choice. In fact, my definition of freedom is that in any given moment – no matter how intense, painful or threatening – we can see at least a thousand options and out of freedom we can choose our response.

I always encourage you to breathe a lot (and well) while doing fascia release. If breathing becomes difficult then I recommend backing off until you have control over your breath. Having said this, it’s totally ok to breathe loudly, make airplane noises, yell, growl…lol. Whatever helps you stay with the present moment experience fully. There’s a big difference between breathing heavily and having difficulty breathing. 

Lightheadedness does not offer any healing benefits, and so I’d never suggest this was a “normal” part of the healing process either. 

The short answer to the question could be summarized like this:

If we’re putting ourselves in a compromising state of body or mind that offers us no benefit, then that state of mind or body should be avoided. 

Things like inability to breathe, nausea, lightheadedness, hitting a nerve while doing fascia release, dissociation or any uncontrollable aspect of the fight/flight/freeze response are all examples of states that offer us no benefit and could (potentially) do some harm. 

Some of these are subjective, however, and must be interpreted through YOUR personal perspective and the meaning you ascribe to the experience. 

For example, I thrive under pressure and love summoning the will to perform what I know is a beneficial action even if it’s incredibly intense; so if I do fascia release and start to feel the intensity ramping up, it actually puts me in a state of heightened neuroplasticity and I ascribe a beneficial meaning to it. But someone else might feel the intensity ramping up and feel threatened, and either dissociate, fight the experience or enact one of a myriad of protection strategies I like to call “nervous system patterns.” 

Triggering these nervous system patterns can be beneficial but ONLY if you know how to use the experience to change your neurobiology. Meaning, you know how to change your own neural pathways, or someone else is coaching you through that experience. Otherwise, you just ingrain the protection pattern even more strongly. 

In instances of intentionally triggering a neuroplastic state it’s actually beneficial to recreate the original response to perceived threat but then choose a different action/outcome than before, which rewires the nervous system and brain. When you do this, the next time you encounter the same trigger, you’re likely to respond with the new pattern instead of the old one. 

Something I repeat often is:

“We can feel a LOT of intensity and discomfort – emotional or physical – and still feel safe.” 

When doing self-healing, especially if you’re a beginner to fascia release and/or working with your own nervous system, I do suggest easing into things. Get to know your body, your nervous system, your fascia, your body generally…before trying to ramp up intensity or change your neurobiology. 

The ideal place to be is at your edge (of discomfort) but not over the cliff. Meaning, you feel uncomfortable but you still have your brain, you’re not in fight or flight mode and you feel in control of your body and mind. 

Finally, some food for thought: pain is subjective. One person’s pain is another person’s pleasure. Pain is NOT the sensation you’re experiencing, it’s the meaning your brain has given to a particular sensation (if you label something painful then the meaning is akin to “this sensation is the detection of a threat to bodily safety, so you better pay attention”). 

We have immense control over our perception of sensations and emotions (but we have to take control, otherwise it tends to run on automation). We have total control over the meaning we ascribe to sensations and emotions; unfortunately, most of us adults are beholden to the automated behaviors that were ingrained during our first 25 years of life (when the brain and body are highly neuroplastic) and we were largely unconscious of what was being wired into our brains and bodies. 

The good news is we can consciously create neural plasticity in adulthood, but it does take concerted effort and you need to understand the science and how it works. 

I have a lot more videos and blogs planned about neuroplasticity and how to change your neural loops regarding pain, trauma and protection strategies that might be holding you back  from the life you want to be living.

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